When the Department for International Development (DFID) published its Education Strategy in February this year, it included key lines around the importance of higher education to international development. It stated that “higher education can play a crucial role in developing the highly skilled people that societies need to lift themselves out of poverty.” DFID’s support in this area will include “support to improve the quality of higher education within developing countries.”
The most visible example of this support to date is SPHEIR, a portfolio of nine partnerships that focus on systemic, and systems-level change in higher education systems in targeted countries in the developing world. Seven UK Universities are involved in the programme which UUKi, in partnership with the British Council and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), deliver on behalf of DFID.
A key difficulty with a programme such as SPHEIR is turning nine separate partnerships into one coherent programme. Can a partnership that delivers blended learning to Syrian refugees deliver the same outputs as a programme that aims to enhance the quality of the entire high education system in Sierra Leone? What links a programme of higher education loans to a programme of pedagogical leadership in Africa? A primary aim of the workshop was to bring the partnerships together and facilitate a conversation that started to search for answers for these types of questions.
As a member of the SPHEIR Fund Manager I have, over time, been able to develop a good understanding of all nine SPHEIR partnerships. However, for many of those present at the workshop this was their first exposure to the activity of other partnerships. As conversations advanced over the week, cross-cutting themes such as teaching and learning, a focus upon marginalised groups, and national HE system reform became more pronounced, and the conversation was able to turn towards how partnerships could better work with, and learn from, each other in the future.
For the SPHEIR team, the topics of conversations both during the workshop, and over meals in the hotels, were hugely encouraging - colleagues from Somaliland collaborating with colleagues from Myanmar, teams in Kenya sharing resources with teams in Lebanon, and UK universities talking to their counterparts across the world. The range of the expertise in the room at any one time was striking, and the potential to leverage this for greater impact was clear.
Over the coming months, we will be able to start see some of the outcomes of these conversations with plans underway for a series of intra-partnership grants being made available. Do keep a close eye on the SPHEIR website to see how this develops.
By Richard Grubb